Media freedom is important. Where press cannot be free, there will be corruption, lack of accountability and transparency. It is not for no reason that Edmund Burke said nearly two centuries ago that yonder in the reporters’ gallery is a fourth estate more important far than all the eminent and venerable branches of the government.
Media as a fourth branch of government is important for the functioning democracy.
However, media often are considered the enemy of the state and the government because they question their plans, programmes and intent.
For a young democracy like ours, freedom of media is critical. As a young nation treading on a democratic path, lack of free and vibrant media will be an expensive state of affair. There will come a time when the threatened and silenced media will quietly die and corruption will become all too prevalent.
At the Parliament recently, the Opposition questioned the Prime Minister about the state of media in Bhutan. The quality of news was at the centre of the question. An Opposition MP said that the quality of news has suffered because reporters are self-censoring because the government interferes in their [media houses’] affairs.
It is a difficult question to answer. We may have the best freedom ranking in the region, yet our media houses are shrinking by the day. Something’s surely going on. Editors who were asked if there is any inference from the government said that there is none. What ought we to make of it?
Prime Minister said: “If any of the Parliament members are aware of government agencies interfering or pressurising the media, you should inform me and I’ll take action accordingly…If not, we shouldn’t be discussing issues that aren’t true here.”
Following the discussion in the Parliament, there have been many debates about the issue. But then, sadly, the debates fell far too short of the weight and attention that the Bhutanese media truly deserve. Bickering and finger-pointing mindlessly for personal gains doesn’t help media grow. It should start with professionalism. Is there any?
Perhaps the government and media professionals should cultivate respect for each other. Openness to work together will help both the parties.